From The Other Side Of The Bench
By David J. Seidemann, Esq.
When the Brisker Rav traveled to Cuba, he found comfort and lodging at the home of Reb Alter and Mrs. Pessy Katz. Such was the Katz home in Cuba, a place of respite for saintly rabbis from all corners of the earth whose travels took them to that part of the world. And it wasn’t just revered scholars who made their way to the Katz home. Any Jew, and almost every Jew, who passed through that region found a home in the Katz home.
It was a philosophy, one of “the home that G‑d gave me is also your home,” that Reb Alter and his wife passed on to their son Joe. It is therefore no surprise that the home of Joe and Nechama Katz—the second generation—on New McNeil Avenue on the border of Far Rockaway and Lawrence, has been home to every type of simcha one can imagine.
Total strangers have taken up residence in the Katz home for weeks and sometimes months at a time. Whether for a new bride and groom or simply a person down on his luck and in need of a place to call home, the Katz home has been the address of chesed in a community noted for chesed.
The revolving-door policy is of such a whirlwind nature that unbeknownst to Joe and Nechama, they once played host to a groom and his family at the same time they were opening up their home and hearts to the bride and her family. Joe and Nechama did not even consider finding out the details of their guests. A family was in need? Joe and Nechama responded. It was quite the scene when the groom’s and bride’s families bumped into each other in the Katz hallway. If you are a Katz, you simply do not know how to say no.
My wife spent many a Shabbos as a single girl at the Katz family and somehow avoided, much to my benefit, marrying one of Joe and Nechama’s seven sons. Each of their sons is steeped in the rich tradition of hachnasas orchim and in giving to the community through their work in Hatzalah and involvement in a myriad of other community organizations.
When my father-in-law lived with us for a number of years, Hatzalah was summoned to our house on numerous occasions. The Katz sons responded time and time again and treated him not as a patient, but as a family member.
For the last eight or so years, my family has been blessed to live next door to the third and fourth generation of Katzes. Shlomo and Deborah and their wonderful children have been best friends to our family and we have taken turns sharing in each other’s times of joy and difficulty. I can think of no better neighbors.
I have often said that you can tell a lot about a person by the layout of his home. How many sefarim are there in the house? Where are the sefarim? Are they in plain view or hidden? How big is the recreation room? How many chairs are there around the dining-room table?
Shlomo and Deborah have learned the lesson of their parents and grandparents. Their dining room is the largest room of the house, and each Shabbos the table is set for an untold number of guests. Every Shabbos and yom tov meal is a feast not just of food but of good cheer, singing, words of Torah, and friendship.
And I see it in their children already, this notion of caring for friends and strangers alike passed on from one generation to the next.
It seems like every night there is another organization having another dinner honoring another person or couple of the year. It can get tedious after a while, and one can become a bit cynical after seeing yet another couple posing for their “Jew of the Century” picture in the paper or in a brochure.
But every once in a while a worthy organization honors a worthy couple, and this year Be’er Hagolah is honoring my neighbors Shlomo and Deborah Katz at the organization’s annual dinner on June 10.
When Deborah and Shlomo rise to accept their award, they will be giving honor not to themselves but to generations that preceded them in setting a course of kindness blended with humility that will undoubtedly be transmitted to generations to come. v
David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or firstname.lastname@example.org.